Inside the Mind of a Tyrant

Traitors in the Shadows examines the reign of Aurangzeb, one of the most contradictory and vilified figures in history

Published: 01st August 2015 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 02nd August 2015 09:56 AM   |  A+A-


Having successfully completed a quintet of books skilfully chronicling the rise and fall of the Moghul Empire, Alex Rutherford is back with Traitors in the Shadows, which examines the reign of Aurangzeb, one of the most contradictory and vilified figures in Indian history. Rutherford is on familiar terrain and his reverence for the historical material shines through in his narrative as he paints an enduring portrait of the tyrant who was not without redeeming qualities though one clearly has to hunt for them using a powerful microscope.

INS.JPGCapable of unbelievable cruelty evinced by his imprisonment of his father and sons, the ruthless hunting and killing of his own brothers, his penchant for torture and careless imposition of the death penalty, the emperor was also just a man haunted by the fact that those in his line had always been forced to choose between TaktyaTakhta—Throne or Coffin. Aurangzeb was a brave warrior and a brilliant strategist. But those fine qualities notwithstanding, he will always be remembered as a tyrant due to his intransigence in all matters regarding religious beliefs.

He was a devout Muslim, whose stern and extreme adherence to the strictures of his religion saw him undo all the hard work put in by his ancestors like Akbar to cultivate the bonds of brotherhood between those of all faiths by adopting a policy of religious intolerance. Aurangzeb banned the celebration of Hindu festivals like Holi and Diwali, ordered the destruction of temples and re-imposed the dreaded Jizya—higher taxation for all non-Muslims—to drive home his power over them. His actions were motivated by a misguided sense of political acuity as well and intended to make a strong statement against rebels like Shivaji and later, Sambhaji who were Hindus, the Jats, Rajputs and Sikhs, to discourage his other subjects from throwing in their lot with them.

The extremist policies forcibly implemented by Aurangzeb and the bad blood it engendered opened up a chasm between the various religious factions in India that has proved difficult to bridge to this very day. His actions were even harder on those closest to him like his sister Jahanara, his sons and closest, most trusted advisors like Wazim Khan who bore the brunt of the hardness of character that saw him snuff every threat to his power with a terrifying savagery.

Rutherford has done a fair job by staying faithful to the material which is pure gold. The historical facts are juicy and the pace is crisp, making for a riveting read and yet it is hard to shake the feeling that something is missing. Despite all the factors going for it, a certain dryness creeps in which has the result that even when an orgy is being described, it is with so much blandness that it detracts from the succulence of the story.

While history itself is always fascinating, history textbooks are less so and this book has some of the tedious attributes of the latter. It merely touches on the emotional core of its characters while shying away from plunging the reader into the very depths which can be mildly frustrating. That minor grouse aside, Empire of the Moghul is a triumph that brings to life one of the most glorious epochs in all of history and is definitely worth a read.


Disclaimer : We respect your thoughts and views! But we need to be judicious while moderating your comments. All the comments will be moderated by the editorial. Abstain from posting comments that are obscene, defamatory or inflammatory, and do not indulge in personal attacks. Try to avoid outside hyperlinks inside the comment. Help us delete comments that do not follow these guidelines.

The views expressed in comments published on are those of the comment writers alone. They do not represent the views or opinions of or its staff, nor do they represent the views or opinions of The New Indian Express Group, or any entity of, or affiliated with, The New Indian Express Group. reserves the right to take any or all comments down at any time.

flipboard facebook twitter whatsapp